The first trophy of the season is up for grabs this Sunday. Rangers face Celtic in what on paper should be an epic contest.
Ange Postecoglou’s team have been rampant all season, dispatching most teams in Scotland with a nonchalant ease that suggests they’ll go into the match at Hampden Park as the heavy favourites to retain the trophy they won last season.
Rangers, having relieved Giovanni Van Bronckhorst of his duties during the break for the World Cup, appointed Michael Beale as their new manager.
Beale has steadied the ship and then some. Rangers remain unbeaten during his (so far) short tenure while performances have been on the whole improving.
Celtic have had a very good habit of imposing their will on games since Postecoglou arrived in Scotland. He’s taken on the job of returning Celtic to the top of the pile in Scotland while Rangers stuttered and stagnated. Firstly under a clearly unhappy Steven Gerrard then of course when Van Bronckhorst took over at the helm.
Rangers lack of serious investment in the summer of 2021, coming off the back of a title winning campaign, came home to roost as the Celtic board backed their new manager with some serious cash. They have continued to do so in every transfer window since.
This Celtic squad has some very good players within it. Players like Carter-Vickers, Furuhashi and Jota are excellent footballers. There is zero point in trying to pretend that isn’t the case or denying that. They have the potential to cause any team problems.
Celtic have lost only once in Scotland this season, that is hugely impressive form.
This is a club that (as Michael Beale correctly pointed out) can outspend the rest of the forty one professional clubs in Scotland combined.
That’s the size of the task facing Rangers on Sunday at Hampden. They’ll be playing a team who’ve blown the opposition away with a consumate ease in Scotland over the last eighteen months.
Slowly Rangers have began to get things right.
Steven Gerrard was backed with finances that Rangers fans hadn’t seen spent in a long, long time. Partly due to Gerrard managing to guide Rangers into the group stages of the Europa League in his first few weeks as a manager and maintaining that achievement every single season.
That accomplishment has allowed the Rangers board to invest in the squad and although some players have failed to live up to expectations there have been a fair few incredible successes.
Rangers have risen to be in a position where they can, or at least should be, challenging for the title every season. That is in huge part due to the job Steven Gerrard and his backroom staff did during his time in Glasgow.
That’s why I was delighted when Michael Beale became the latest incumbent in the Rangers managers office. He was clearly a massive influence on everything that Rangers were when Gerrard was the manager.
Michael Beale has started his tenure tremendously well. Unbeaten and clearly improving under his influence, the results are proof that he is the right man for the job, regardless of the result on Sunday. Win or lose, he is building something special and my hope is that he is allowed to rebuild his squad with younger, fresher and hungrier players.
Given time he will win Rangers trophies, he will win leagues and he will (I’m sure) have us competing in Europe again. The achievement of reaching the Champions League this season is to be commended but sadly in the main it’ll be sadly forgotten about due to the catastrophic results.
This is a Rangers team that has it all to prove again. A team that reached the dizzy heights of the Europa League Final less than a year ago, only to lose on penalties, is proof enough that there is bags of talent within the squad. Although we all realise that an overhaul of the playing staff is imminent, my trust in Michael Beale to get it right is massively positive.
Rangers have match winners in this squad. Players such as Tillman, Cantwell, Kent and Raskin all have the ability to cause this Celtic team plenty of problems.
If they go into this game on Sunday with confidence, belief and commitment to the cause, then I believe they can emerge from Hampden with the trophy in their possession.
That in turn would set them up for the rest of the season and could potentially give them a slight edge over their city rivals. A win in one of the biggest derby’s on the planet breeds huge confidence as we seen last January when Rangers turned up at Parkhead and were sent packing with their tales between their legs.
That instilled the confidence this Celtic team currently have. They’ve been the dominant side in this fixture since that night, if truth be told, and that is despite Rangers beating them in the Scottish Cup semi final last season.
A defeat and a draw at Ibrox, a draw and two heavy defeats at Celtic Park, means we haven’t beaten Celtic in ninety minutes since Gerrard’s side (managed by Beale due to a covid outbreak within the squad) won early last season when Filip Helander scored the only goal in a one nil win.
Momentum is massive in football and at this minute it’s Celtic that have that. It’s up to Rangers to snatch it away from them. That’s what turns things around, beating a rival convincingly does wonders for the confidence of a team.
If Rangers can manage to win on Sunday then that can damage the confidence of your opponents. Beating them comprehensively can almost certainly cause near fatal damage to a teams confidence, we’ve seen that in those two heavy defeats at Celtic Park that Rangers suffered last year.
Rangers struggled to recover from those defeats and by all accounts lost a bit of faith in their (now gone) manager and his staff.
Momentum is massive in football. Rangers have a great opportunity to gain plenty of it.
If they can do that, keep winning in the league and perhaps even reduce the gap between the teams at the top of the table, by the time Rangers return to Parkhead on league duty… well just consider what a win in the east end of Glasgow would do in regards to the momentum either club would have.
That’s what makes Sundays game so intriguing. Two good sides, playing with a huge amount of confidence and both on very successful runs.
For me, this is a watershed moment for this Rangers squad.
A win brings a trophy and momentum but also shows that Rangers have come from the depths of Scottish football to win all the major honours available to us. A completed set, that may have taken too long to achieve but realism and understanding is required when we analyse the last few years and how the club has progressed.
If I’m one of those Rangers players I’m seeing this as an opportunity to lay a marker down. If I’m Michael Beale, I know it’s the perfect game to snatch some momentum away from a juggernaut that needs slowed down and brought to a stop.
Ultimately a win on Sunday allows us to win a trophy, stop a treble, keeps momentum on Rangers side and puts a seed of doubt into our rivals minds.
I want this Rangers team to go out all guns blazing from the get go, have no respect for the opposition and play like their lives depended on it.
All any Rangers fan asks is that those players give their all and leave nothing out there on that Hampden pitch.
I’m really looking forward to this game. Two good teams, two astute managers and bags of quality on the pitch.
Let the Battle Fever commence.
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